Prince George's County yesterday charged the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has maintained a rat-and roach-infested apartment complex in Laurel, and ordered the federal agency to pay more than $10,000 in rent rebates to tenants.
The 600-unit development, formerly known as Pumpkin Hill but renamed South Laurel Mutual Homes, was taken over by HUD in March when its original owners defaulted on their federal loans.
Sheila Newman, executive director of the county's Landlord-Tenant Commission, said in an order released yesterday that federal officials failed to act "within a reasonable time" to correct widespread deficiencies in the project that houses low-income tenants who receive subsidies to help pay their rent.
"HUD knew about the rodents and vacant apartments when they took over," Newman said in an interview. "They should have taken action to correct it. They didn't. They exacerbated the problems by letting them go."
An attorney for HUD said the department was satisfied with the order and pleased that the refunds were not extended to all tenants.
Infested by rats and roaches and with many vacant, heavily vandalized apartments, South Laurel was condemned by county housing inspectors last February and branded "a threat to human life" by County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan.
Newman ordered HUD to refund 15 to 25 percent of the rents paid by 36 tenants for periods ranging from four months to a year.
She also directed that the tenants' future rent payments be discounted by 15 percent a month until the vermin are exterminated, or for a maximum of four months.
Newman's order came at the end of a long administrative process that began when more than 40 South Laurel tenants filed complaints with the Landlord-Tenant Commission in June.
They complained of housing violations ranging from apartments left vacant and open to rat infestation, flooding, missing doors, holes in apartment walls and defective wiring and safety equipment.
County housing officials inspected the apartments and compiled their own list of violations. HUD was given until Aug. 27 to make repairs.
Newman said the federal department generally has responded to the complaints of tenants and housing inspectors, but some violations continue and others took too long to correct.
Newman awarded refunds to tenants who lived in buildings with vacant and unsecured apartments between March and August, and to tenants whose apartments were infested with rodents. m
But only those tenants who officially complained to the commission were considered.
Maria Hill, the president of the South Laurel tenants' association, said yesterday she was "happy and excited" over the refund order.
"I didn't think we had a chance against HUD," she said. "I was beginning to think that all our work was not going to pay off."
Robert Ammons, the attorney who represented HUD before the Land-lord-Tenant Commission, said he also was satisfied with the order.
Ammons said that HUD acknowledged that tenants deserved refunds for "certain conditions" and had opposed only the appeals by tenants for an across-the-board refund for residents of the project.